The Taxonomy for Conflict Prevention and Resolution: A Research Proposal

              By Terrence R. Redding, Ph.D. č



"...[I]t is a common observation here that our cause is the cause

of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in

defending our own." --Benjamin Franklin




This paper is an expansion of a work originally begun at the request of  Colette Mazzucelli to write a taxonomy of conflict resolution which would be useful to educators who seek to create programs designed to resolve armed conflict.  That original task was modified to address conflict prevention.  Thus, this paper seeks to further the process by which educators may develop courses designed to address conflict prevention.  Specifically this paper discusses a taxonomy designed for conflict prevention.  It further proposes the taxonomy be used to facilitate future research.  It is based on the assumption that conflict at some level is normal, and that by understanding the structure of conflict within a culture or society, conflict can be held to a war of ideas and open armed conflict can be prevented. This is a proposal. Over time, this taxonomy for conflict prevention may be refined as it is applied to provide a conceptual framework for the discussion, analysis, and prevention of conflict.

When the Berlin Wall fell, the world paused sucking in a collective deep breath, and then cheered.  Shortly thereafter the Soviet Union collapsed, the Cold War ended and the world was at peace.  However, in reflecting on our new found peace the West discovered that we were far from being at peace, war, a`beit small wars, were numerous and indeed common.  Our preoccupation with the Cold War may indeed have blinded us to the large number of small wars that were being fought in anonymity.  Rather than finding a world without war at the end of the Cold War, we seemed to be discovering that wars that were all around us.  Not our wars, but wars never the less.  More important to note is the propensity for unresolved wars to be resumed after conditions of restraint, such as the Soviet Union, were no longer in place.

The necessity of conducting research in conflict prevention.

Throughout the second half of the last century the world hung in the balance of deterrence built on the notion of mutually assured total destruction.  Several generations grew up fearing that either the West or the East would start a nuclear war that would result in the possible annihilation of all of human kind.  After the collapse of the Soviet block disarmament was accepted as the next logical step towards making the world a safer place.  However, part of the disarmament process included the disposal of the nuclear arsenal.   Russia, with the old Soviet Union gone, found itself forced to turn to the West to seek funding to support its transition to capitalism and the arms reduction. Accounting for the nuclear arsenal, insuring that smaller weapons were not sold to private parties and rouge nations became a concern.  The wars in the Balkans, Somalia, and the Persian Gulf demonstrated that Western nations were willing to accept some degree of responsibility for securing peace for various parts of the world.

                   Rather than a welcoming response to Western involvement, extreme resentment and out and out hatred was the result in some cases.  The West was viewed by some as a threat to various cultures and religions.  Additionally, where the Soviet Union and the West were able to end the Cold War without the use of overt force on a global scale, others did not prove to be so willing to exercise restraint.  For example, Saddam Hussan of Iraq intentionally ordered hundreds of oil fires be set as his army retreated from Kuwait, indicating a willingness to inflict intentional destruction on a global scale.  Given the authoritative predictions that such fires would result in a chilling of the planet, and widespread famine in the aftermath of climate change, crop failures and flooding, one can only assume Hussan was intentionally willing to be responsible for such results.  The more recent September 11, 2001 attack on the USA by Muslim extremist has served to highlight the reality that anyone anywhere can inflict grave harm through acts of open conflict on an international scale.

                   Some argue that preventing such acts in the future will require an educational response (Colette and Boston, in press), that a response limited only to the use of greater force may serve to simply increase the resolve of some to do grave harm.  Structuring educational programs designed to reduce the propensity to engage in open conflict and grave acts of destruction requires an inquiry and analysis designed to explore questions associated with what are the antecedents to war, and can they be addressed before open conflict breaks out?

                   The study of research methodologies provides us with five sources of knowledge.  We can gain knowledge through experience, from an authoritative source, through deductive reasoning, through inductive reasoning, and the scientific approach.  Experience alone seldom brings with it agreement because two individuals may experience the same situation but through deductive or inductive reasoning reach very different conclusions.  The scientific approach combines the methods of deductive and inductive reasoning with a structured approach to investigating various phenomena  (Ary, Jacobs & Razavieh, 1985: Langenbach, Vaughn & Aagaard, 1994; Merram, 1984).   The taxonomy I am about to present should provide future investigators with a comprehensive structure within which to develop theories about how open conflict develops.

Why is a Taxonomy needed?

Providing a framework for understanding the elements that lead to open conflict may be the first step towards being able to prevent conflict.  A good taxonomy takes into account the importance of separating elements of a group (taxon) into subgroups (taxa) that are mutually exclusive, unambiguous, and taken together, include all possibilities. In practice, a good taxonomy should be simple, easy to remember, and easy to use (Taxonomy, n.d.).  This taxonomy is designed to support the arrangement of information associated with conflict into finite divisions in order to facilitate the development of verifiable conceptual frameworks for discussing, analyzing, and storing information concerning conflict.

Howard (1997) provides a concise list of the desirable characteristics of a satisfactory taxonomy.  His list consist of six items


1. mutually exclusive - classifying in one category excludes all others because categories do not overlap,


2. exhaustive - taken together, the categories include all possibilities,


3. unambiguous - clear and precise so that classification is not uncertain, regardless of who is classifying,


4. repeatable - repeated applications result in the same classification, regardless of who is classifying,


5. accepted - logical and intuitive so that they could become generally approved,


6. useful - can be used to gain insight into the field of inquiry.

Thus the taxonomy below has been conceived with the above discussion in mind.

Identifying the Antecedents to Conflict

Man's normal condition is to strive towards greater security.  In so doing he is constantly interacting with the environment around him, gathering knowledge and wealth.  Often working alone, but more often working collectively in homogeneous small groups, family units, extended families, villages, communities, ethnic groupings, and organized nations.  Success breeds population expansion and a tendency to spread out in search of food, land, and opportunity to gain greater security.  Time, distance, and isolating topography permit man to develop in diverse ways in isolation.  Over time common language, beliefs and experiences become unique to individual geographical groups. Within these various frameworks man expends energy to secure a future for himself, his family and his friends.  During this process of striving to gain greater security man comes in contact with those not numbered among his family, or friends.  With these others he competes as he strives towards the ideal of greater security. These two dimensions, security and diversity, interact in such a way that they can be used to explain much of the conflict experienced.  See Figure 1 below.

Insert figure 1





















                  Figure 1.  The potential for conflict is greatest when a population has low-security and must compete with others groups, Quadrant I.  As the number of competing groups increases, so does the likelihood of conflict.  At the low-security end of the continuum, individuals or groups may engage in desperate acts to gain security. As a group gains security, they become less likely to initiate conflict.


An analysis of the figure above reveals that Quadrant I represents the conditions most likely to produce conflict, and that Quadrant IV represents the conditions to most likely reduce the likelihood of conflict. In Quadrant I the population has low-security and thus must strive towards greater security in an environment of diverse populations, which compete with each other as they each strive towards achieving greater security.  In Quadrant IV the population is homogeneous and enjoys high-security, and thus does not have to compete to maintain security. Of special note is the notion of a homogenous nature of the population associated with Quadrant IV.  Homogeneity refers to a unifying group identity. However, there is a third dimension, Tolerance, which can and does cut across the other two dimensions and set the stage for conflict.  Aspects of Tolerance can be conceived as a continuum extending from Indifference at one end towards Radical Intolerance at the other end.  Indifference towards other groups may be defined as a simple unawareness of the other group’s existence, or the idea that the other group’s existence is unimportant.  Radical Intolerance can be defined as the active belief that a group should not exist, and should be fundamentally changed or eliminated.

The following figure depicts a three dimensional conception of the prerequisites for conflict to occur based on the discussion above.
Insert Figure 2.















                  Figure 2.  Again, the potential for conflict is greatest when a population has low-security and must compete with others groups, Quadrant I. A third dimension, Tolerance, cuts across the other two dimensions as is worthy of note. At its extreme, Radical Intolerance, genocide or enslavement may occur.



Beyond the two dimensional conception must be added a component associated with radical intolerance.  Radical intolerance is the extreme end of a continuum which moves from Indifference towards those not members of your group to Radical Intolerance.  This intolerance may be extended along any dimension of group identity such as race, creed, language, ethnicity, or religious belief. For example in some cultures the notion of group identity may contain a component of intolerance for anyone not included as a member of the group.  This attitude of intolerance may result in considering the non-group members to be inferior to the dominant group.  Once considered a non-member and inferior the dominant group may treat non-member groups in an unfair or discriminatory manner. For example, in some political structures extending boarders and subordinating other populations to serve the dominant society is seen as essential to assuring the security of the whole.  While in other societies non-members may be enslaved or placed in cast systems that deny them basic human rights.  Still in other situations the intolerance may require isolation for the non-member group or the active destruction of non-member groups.  This intolerance is further identified as Radical when the dominant society’s interaction includes an overt commitment to action to subordinate or eliminate the non-member group.

War has been classified as low-intensity, mid-intensity, and high-intensity armed conflict (NATO Military Doctrine).  Low-intensity armed conflict is the most common.  It can be characterized as an organized overt act of aggression by a group not recognized as legitimate by any formally constituted government.  Mid-intensity conflict occurs between formally constituted governments with limited objectives. A simple extension of this classification to include  pre-conflict structure would look like that depicted in the table below.



Establishing a Taxonomy


Insert table 1.

Taxonomy of Conflict



Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Column 4

Column 5



Agricultural Age

Agricultural Age

Industrial Age

Information Age




City States


Mutual Defense Alliances


Single Group

Multiple Groups

Geo - Political Structure

Nation States

Nation States with mutual defense treaties




Multiple groups within a single structure

Multiple groups within a single structure

Multiple groups within a single structure




Low-intensity conflict

Mid-intensity conflict

High-intensity conflict


Unity of identity

Diverse Identity


Dispute of resources, territory, ideology between individual countries

War to acquire resources and territory


No competition for security

Competition for security

Conflict to address discrimination

Conflict to address differences

Conflict to protect national identity


No Conflict

Conflict to protect self-identity

Conflict to subvert another group

Conflict to convert another group

Conflict to eliminate another group





Radical Intolerance

Radical Intolerance


Birth Identity

Racial Identity

Ethnic Identity

Religious Identity

Philosophic Identity

Table 1.1 This Taxonomy of Conflict is presented as a rotate-able matrix.  It lays out a taxonomy for understanding the basic nature of the conditions within which conflict occurs in an increasingly complex world.  The columns represent the increasingly complex world from a structural perspective.  The rows represent the nature of the world within each column.


Table 1.1 is designed to structure our thinking about conflict on several levels and provide a simple framework within which to analyze past and potential future conflicts.  An initial analysis revealed that imposing Toffler’s “Age” taxonomy from “Future Shock” might be helpful to those familiar with his work.  Thus they have been placed with in the columns in Row A.  They may be generally applied, as long as one respects the fact that not all parts of the world are with in the same functional age.  Indeed we have some groups today that are still pre-agriculture in nature, and much of the world has not made the transition into the Information Age.  Thus column 1 represents the simplest conflict model in which the group sees itself as completely homogeneous and not in competition with any other group as it seeks to maintain its security.  That is not to say that such a group could not exist within the conditions associated with column 5.  Such a group could exist, however its belief system and self-identity would be such that it does not view its security as based on competing with any other group.  Such a group might have the simple view of one planet, one people.

Organizing the taxonomy into columns and rows is not intended to imply that hard boundaries exist within the rotational matrix.  Quite the opposite is the case.  However the matrix should be useful in considering the historical conditions under which conflicts have occurred and to then consider ways similar conflicts might be avoided.

Rows B and C are intended to show the increasing complexity of human society and political structure as we move from column 1 to column 5.  Rows B, C, and D can be used to discuss the increasing complexity of group identity,  Rows D and E address the increasing complexity and diversity of social and cultural groups across time, and the increase in the level of potential conflict as man has gained control over his environment and has gained the ability to apply his increasing knowledge in the art of war.

Row E indicates there is a normal continuum from peace through high-intensity conflict.  Over time various groups may experience each element of the continuum.  Absolute peace is rare, as is high-intensity conflict.  The definition of low-intensity and mid-intensity conflict are also fluid.  As the world gains knowledge, the level of violent conflict has increased dramatically.  At the same time the amount of total destruction and risk of loss of life have also increased.  Somewhat surprisingly the length of time over which  high –intensity conflict is sustained has decreased.

Rows F, G, and H depict conditions under which conflict has been justified.  Not shown are the defensive responses and rationale. Rather, for the purposes of this taxonomy it appears prudent to focus primarily on the aggressor’s rationale for initiating conflict.  Finally, Row J identifies the increasingly complex way individuals structure their self-identity and group identity.  Birth identity under this construction is considered neutral.  Racial identity, depending on its construct, enables an individual to view as justified armed conflict with another racial group in order to gain additional security.  An ethnic identity recognized that as the dispersion of human populations across the planet have occurred, various ethnic groups may be of mixed racial stock.  Self-identity of a group may cross all known racial and ethnic boundaries when it is associated with a unifying religious identity.  Finally, one may obtain a self-identity based solely on ones philosophical orientation such as the notion of one planet, one people.  Thus the Figure 1 can be modified to depict this fourth dimension as indicated below.

Extending the Taxonomy

Insert Figure 3

























                  Figure 3.  The blue arrow moving from Quadrant III to Quadrant II represents the increasing complexity of self-identity in an increasingly complex world and adds a fourth dimension to this conceptualization.


Analyzing Figure 3 should permit one to do several things.  First, each axis can be considered independent of the others as to its ability to foster or resist conflict.  For example low-security fosters conflict, while perceived high-security reduces the likelihood of conflict.  A homogeneous group is less likely to engage in internal conflict, while a diverse population is more likely to engage in internal conflict.  Likewise, a geographical area occupied by just one homogeneous population is less likely to be involved in a regional conflict because their group identity would tend to preclude it.  However, should the idea of difference between various factions of a homogeneous population be fostered, homogeneity breaks down and the likelihood of conflict increases.  Isolation fosters such a process.

Radical intolerance is of special note because it can be fostered within a single family, racial, or ethnic group through the spread of radical ideas.  Thus infanticide, the devaluing of women, or unclean  classes of people can be fostered as ideals which create sub-groups at risk within what would normally be considered a homogeneous population.  Radical intolerance can be extended to subpopulations within a culture to place at risk those with a different colored skin or creed to justify wars of ethnic cleansing.  Finally, radical intolerance can be extended between religious groups and nations and used to justify all out wars of elimination.

The fourth dimension added in Figure 3, addresses the impact individual self-identity can have on group identity and issues of conflict prevention.  It recognizes that within a fluid world of rapid information flow and knowledge diffusion individuals, indeed complete populations may develop identities which are separate from their birth identity, racial and ethnic identity, or indeed their national or religious identity.  Indeed it appears quite possible to develop a group identity for humanity, which essentially eliminates the potential for open conflict.  I call this group identity “One Planet, One People.”


Future analyst may be able to take this taxonomy, using either Table 1, Figure 2, Figure 3, or modified versions of each, and assign numerical weights to the various aspects of the conditions that foster conflict.  Using these numerical values they may be able to prioritize and predict where the potential for open conflict is greatest.  The taxonomy may also be used to identify steps which may be taken to reduce the likelihood of open conflict, and thus prevent conflict.

This work is a beginning.  It is important that others engage in this work to apply past historical conflicts to this taxonomy and refine the utility of the taxonomy.  It would also be helpful to use the taxonomy to evaluate potential future conflicts to determine if there are ways to increase security for various populations, decrease the perception of diversity, move radical intolerance in the direction of indifference, and foster a world philosophic identity of one planet, one people.



Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C. and Razavieh, A. (1985).  Introduction to Research in Education, 3rd edition.  Holt, Rinehart and Wilson. NY

Mazzucelli, C. and Boston, R. (in press). Rebuilding Education for Human Security in the Balkans (Mazzucelli and Boston, ed.) Multimedia Dimensions in Conflict Prevention Series (Volume 1) (manuscript in progress)

Franklin, B. (n.d.).  Benjamin Franklin quote retrieved from the Founding Fathers series of the Global Learn Day listserv.  Retrieved November 18, 2001.

Howard, J.D. (1997). An Analysis Of Security Incidents On The Internet 1989 – 1995. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,  Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, PA.

Langenbach, M., Vaughn, C. and Aagaard, L. (1994). An Introduction to Educational Research.  Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

Merrian, S. B. (1984).  A Guide to Research for Educators and Trainers and Adults. Krieger Publishing, Malabar, FL.

Redding, T. R. (in press).  Taxonomy for conflict prevention.  In Rebuilding Education for Human Security in the Balkans (Mazzucelli and Boston, ed.) Multimedia Dimensions in Conflict Prevention Series (Volume 1) (manuscript in progress)

Taxonomy (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2002 ,from,,sid9_gci331416,00.html

Toffler, A. (1970). Future Shock. Bantam Books, NY


Author Biography

Terrence R. Redding, Ph.D., President and CEO of OnLine Training, has been designing and teaching adult education courses since 1968. Redding is a past W. K. Kellogg Fellow and has a doctoral degree in Adult and Higher Education. He has a Masters in the Psychology of Education and is an honors graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. His research has dealt with adult motivation theory and the origins of self-directed learning readiness. He has specialized in cognitive learning models and is the co-developer of the Honeycutt Redding Cognitive Task Analysis Model. Since 1989 he has been involved in an on going series of research projects associated with the development of high self-directed learning readiness. Of great significance is the finding that children between ages 8 and 15, who become high self-directed learners, typically share a common childhood experience. Redding has labeled this experience "the first moment of lasting excitement." High self-directed learners who share this common experience can remember some event that has captured their imagination for life. Typically these individuals find their life long learning endeavors in some way tied to this "first moment of lasting excitement." Redding retired from the US Army in 1988.  Following the Gulf War Redding conducted an analysis of lessons learned, operational requirements, and developed a prioritization for leveraging the development of US strategic technologies. Later he wrote the US Army Field Manual for conducting Deep Operations during mid-intensity conflict. Today Redding’s focus is on extending access to education on a global scale, and on fostering the notion that this is one planet, and we are one people.


Web links of interest are: - One Planet One People - Taxonomy of Conflict Prevention